What would you do if you knew the world was coming to an end? It’s a familiar topic, but co-writers/directors Daryl Wein (Lola Versus, White Rabbit) and Zoe Lister-Jones (Band Aid, The Craft: Legacy) had the unique experience of putting their own spin on that idea during a time when our real world actually felt like it was ending: production on their latest movie took place last year during the pandemic. Intended to be a time capsule of this weird and horrible era, How It Ends is a much funnier and more lighthearted film than those intentions imply, and there’s more going on than just laughs. Underneath all the jokes and humorous moments, the movie is fundamentally about how important it is to love yourself – and about how something so seemingly simple can sometimes be incredibly difficult.
A giant meteor is set to collide with the Earth at 2am, so when thirtysomething Liza (Lister-Jones) wakes up on the last day of human history, she kicks off the morning by scarfing down a stack of pancakes that’s big enough to be a cheat meal for Dwayne Johnson. Liza technically lives alone, but she’s always accompanied by a physical manifestation of her younger self (Cailee Spaeny), a walking reminder of the innocence and optimism she used to have before a string of bad relationships led her into a state of urban malaise. Today, all Liza wants to do is get super high and go to one last party. There’s just one problem: she’s all out of drugs.
That could easily be the setup for a classic stoner movie, but there are no hallucinogenic trips to be found here (at least, not for our protagonist). After an initial jaunt to acquire some drugs, the movie establishes that it’s going to be about an entirely different kind of trip: a literal journey across Los Angeles not only to make it to that night’s party, but to visit friends and family in a last-minute attempt to clear Liza’s conscience. Along the way, Liza and her younger self encounter strangers, acquaintances, old friends, ex-lovers, and more, all of whom can actually see the younger self for the first time ever.
Since Liza’s car has been stolen, the majority of the movie involves her and her younger self walking across L.A. streets (eerily empty, thanks to the pandemic) as they attempt to reconcile with folks and cross names off of their regret list. The best part of the film is seeing its cavalcade of cameos – nearly every person they interact with is a familiar face who gets to work some magic for three or four minutes before the Lizas move on to the next one. I won’t spoil any of the names for you, but here’s where the shagginess of the structure both hurts and helps the film. When the supporting actor is vibing with Liza, like when she seeks out her former best friend to apologize for letting a guy get in the way of their relationship, the movie feels like it’s a well-oiled machine. But other interactions feel far more forced, like bad improv that never really goes anywhere. During those short stretches, everything grinds to a grating, awkward halt. In those moments, you might find yourself thinking about how this movie occasionally feels like any other generic hipster indie comedy.
But then there will be a scene between Lister-Jones and Spaeny that instantly pulls you back in and re-invests you in the larger journey. It’s their relationship that is at the center of this story, and both women bring an authenticity and humanity to these parts that vacillates between playful, sad, and profound, while always managing to be relatable. The primary metaphor, about loving yourself even when it seems like no one else can or will, plays out in a powerful and emotional way that elevates this to being more than just another post-mumblecore comedy.
Funny, scrappy, and breezy, How It Ends admittedly doesn’t always work. But when it does, it works like a charm.
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10
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Author: Ben Pearson
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January 31, 2021